Small Biz Wonders – Kaitlin Noel Photography

Do you have one of those people you sort of know, and you follow on social media, and you just admire everything they do?  This is who I got the pleasure of interviewing this week!  She is a mom first, but has built an international wedding photography business, has nailed her branding and business model and is someone after whom I have tried to model myself.  She is smart and sweet, answered each and every one of my questions with thought and enthusiasm.  I am so honored this week to present Kaitlin Noel Photography!

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All photos have been shared with her permission.

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You have established a fantastic brand and business, what were some challenges you faced getting up and running?

First of all, thank you so much for your kind words and very sweet compliments. They mean so much to me. Branding is tough. I went through about 5 logos my first two years. I had every shade of pink on my website. I used every font I loved and felt the need to plaster my website with everything I loved in life…thinking that, THAT was branding. Boy did I learn the hard way. It wasn’t until after a mentoring session with Katelyn James Photography years 4 years ago that I was told that my “branding” was actually HURTING my business. It wasn’t professional. It wasn’t cohesive. It was a mess.

After my session with her, I invested a lot of money and time into a professional designer. I even paid for a promo video. It was the best move I could have ever made at the time. I stripped away the MESS of a brand I thought was “me” and started over. I was directed to create a mood board of my favorite colors, textures, fonts, and things. Slowly but surely, a style/brand was coming to focus. I was given some pretty intense self/soul searching homework that made me delve into the many layers of business. Some layers, I never even thought had anything to do with my business or photography. It was hard finding the time and energy to delve into myself and my “Real vs. Professional” side of branding. Raising my little ones, time was tight. Money was tight. Not to mention that when you have children, you change. Things that were once important seemed childish. So as I matured into a mother, a business owner and a wife, my style changed. My advice is to take your time. Invest into your business and into yourself. You do not want your brand to “work for now”…you want it to last.

What are some challenges you face in your family life?

Every family struggles. Every family faces their own challenges. Don’t think for one second there is any family out there that has it perfect.  When I decided to open my business, I had just had my second baby in 2 years. I was 24 by the time my second was born. My kids were 17 months apart. I was a wife 1 year out of college. My husband was just hired as a full-time police officer and I was working 3 jobs. (Towel folder at Bed Bath and Beyond, Substitute Teacher in K-5 and waitress…and in the summer, I cleaned beach houses on the weekends from 8am-2pm before renters came in for the week) I rarely slept. I rarely saw my kids. It was awful. I cried all the time. I was miserable. I was working one job just to pay sitters. I was working the other just for gas to get to the other jobs. One job in hopes in saving enough money to buy camera gear. And the other job to support my growing family the best I could. We did not have a TON of family support in the beginning. There are a few family members that we owe our whole life to. They were equal parents to our children and we couldn’t be more grateful. They are the ones now that see our success and smile and “say, I knew you’d make it!” Just typing that makes me cry…because there is nothing harder in life than feeling alone. Feeling helpless. Lost. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone!

Now, our struggles are still there, but different. We still struggle with working a lot and needing a lot of support in terms of children care. We struggle with remembering to work on our marriage and not just co-habitat. We are currently building a house…and that friends….is one of the hardest things I will probably ever do. Balance is tough, but as parent, you do your best and that’s all you can do.  We all wish we had more support. More time. More money. More of anything that makes life easier. But life is not easy. Nothing is free. That’s why its so important to do what your passionate about. If I was away from my babies doing jobs I hated, I just don’t see that as living. Work hard for what you want and once you know it can support your children/your family…then take the leap and put ALL YOU HAVE into it. It will pay off in the long run!

Being a working parent is a balancing act, what advice do you have for other working parents?

A lot of people ask me how I do it all. They flatter me by saying I am wonder woman. Though that’s so sweet, that is so far from the truth. You have to find a rhythm that works for you and your family. Do not worry about how your life- balancing act looks in comparison to others. You are not them and they are not you. Every family is different and that is 100% ok. I have found that to-do lists really help me stay organized and make me feel productive as I get to cross items off my lists. Its my own personal form of a reward or pat on the back. Its validation that I can do mom duties, wife duties and business owner duties all in one day if I choose. Some working moms only have Sat and Sunday to spend time with their husbands, kids, do the laundry, clean the house, food shopping, errands, AND attempt to start up a side business. We all have our own battles.

For the mom-bosses out there, my advice is to put a system called IFTTT into effect immediately. It stands for “If first this, then that”. So when I wake up, I go to the gym, come home, shower, eat lunch and at that point I have 2-3 hours before the kids come home. So I say if first I do all my emails in 1 hour, then I get to take a 30 minute break to do a load of laundry, walk the dog, do the dishes. Then later I will say, “If I first edit this session for 60 minutes, then I will take a 60 minute break to play a game with the kids, get them a snack, etc.”

Does this work all the time? OF COURSE NOT! There are some days where I say “just a moment kids…and 4 hours later I look at the clock and I am like omg…its time for dinner…I missed the whole afternoon with them! Its hard. But some days you have to handle business and some days you have to unplug and be with your family. There is no perfect answer. Just find a rhythm that allows you be fully present in each and every activity you take on. You will feel fulfilled and inspired!

What has been your greatest disappointment in your business?  Greatest achievement?

My greatest disappointment in my business was that I spent so much time and effort and energy on things that didn’t matter in the beginning. I thought I had to spend money on what everyone else was. I thought I had to have the same gear, same programs, same everything. I was trying so hard to be like everyone else that was successful that I in turn became lost and unsuccessful. I should have been investing into what I needed to make ME successful. I was caught up in drama that was so trite and petty. I got lost in comparison and competition. It was draining. Looking back I am so disappointed i let it go on for that long and that far. I am disappointed that i behaved and acted that way.

But we all learn from our mistakes, some just have to learn that hard way. But through my failures, there have been many successful moments. The most successful moment I will ever have in this business will be being able to live out my life doing something I love and being able to support the ones I love while doing it. I will look back knowing I did my best and I got to live a life doing something I loved. Something that fed my heart and soul. Professionally, the first time I was featured on Style Me Pretty was a very exciting moment for me. When we start in this industry, we all set goals. We create a dreams list. Well for me, being featured by them was a huge goal and dream of mine…so being able to accomplish that was really rewarding.

How do you refocus?

There are times where I can not for the life of me find the will to pick up my camera after a busy shooting week. I know that, that means that I am burnt out and need to refocus. Regroup. I never want to get to a point where “photography” is a burden or a “bad job”. Creatives put so much heart, soul and effort into their craft and its very easy to feel burnt out and overworked. When this happens I plan for an afternoon with the family either committing to some retail therapy, a brewery date with my husband…or on rare occasions I lay horizontal on the couch curled in ball watching Fixer Upper Marathons. If I am super lucky, I get to spend time with my friends, go to the spa, or shoot for myself.

Don’t get so caught up in your job that you forget to DO your job. Your job is to run a successful business, sure. But you HAVE to take care of yourself. And you have to make time for what matters the most. And what matters more than anything is health, family, and counting your blessings!

What do you feel like is the secret to your success?  What are you most thankful for?

The secret is this: You have to want it for yourself. You have to work as hard as everyone else, then work harder. You have to shoot (work) for you and your clients, not for the approval of your peers. Surround yourself with people that cheer you on, inspire you, and light a fire under your tushy. I have a few true blue girls in my life that are there to tell me the truth no matter what. They are positive. They are encouraging. They are my cure to self -doubt. They are my biggest cheerleaders (Next to my family of course).  Laughter is a great medicine. Never forget to thank those that got you to where you are in life. Cherish them. Celebrate them. Through jealousy and comparison out the door. They will slow you down.

I am so thankful for a husband that bought me my first camera. I am so thankful for him supporting me no matter what. I am thankful for his job. I am thankful for his intelligence and understanding. I am thankful for his patience. A creative, self- employed woman can be a lot to deal with I am sure. Endless dreams. Always wanting more. Always self -critical. Always taking on more than they can handle because passion takes over and logic falls by the way side. He keeps me grounded. He brings me back to reality and pushes me when I feel like I have nothing left to give.

I am so thankful for my true blues. My girls. I can count my best friends on one hand, but that one hand is filled with the most amazing woman you will ever know. They loved me and supported me even when I was shooting blurry, crooked, green, AWFUL pictures. And now…though we don’t get to spend AS MUCH time together, when we do…its that much better.

I am thankful for those that didn’t doubt me. The never will. I am thankful for those that do not take advantage of me, expect anything from me, and appreciate me.

I am thankful for my children that will ALWAYS be my “why” in business. Without them this life wouldn’t be half as amazing or worthy. They think I am perfect. They love my unconditionally. And they always know the way to my heart.

What is important to you when you leave your legacy for your children?

I have always wondered if my kids will think my job is as cool as I think it is when they are older. Would the have been more proud if I was a doctor?  A lawyer? They are obsessed with their father and always brag that he is a police officer and even dress up like him. He is their hero. I KNOW ITS A BOY THING FOR SURE, but my mama heart wants to make them light up that way about my career, too. I think I want them to look at me one day and know that I never stopped. I worked hard as hard as everyone else and then worked harder. I did whatever I had to, to make sure they had the best of the best and got to have a life full of adventure and love. I want them to want to marry a wife like their mother that knows that nothing is easy. Nothing comes free. That’s the legacy I want. I want them to be strong, courageous, kind, smart and dedicated boys that NEVER settle. Never take the easy route and be successful people that fight for their dreams.

Its crazy on the business side of things to think that pictures I am creating and taking today will be images generations to come will hold near and dear as treasures of their elderly or passed loved ones. I look at pictures of my grandparents today when they were my age and I love every picture and am so thankful for them being captured. I stop and wonder if the photographer that captured them knows how important that photo is two someone like me, 2 generations later. Its a huge responsibility but also a huge honor to be a photographer. Pictures are worth a thousand words….but they are also priceless in so many other ways. Never take that for granted.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Remember that the quicker you rise, the faster you fall. Enjoy the journey. Pay your dues. Ask questions. Do not compare. Do not quit. Work hard. Then work harder. Stay true to yourself, not what’s popular or what’s on trend. Surround yourself with people that will push you, not hold you back. Say thank you, remain humble. Be kind. Do your best and let what you do today and every other day, be enough!

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Thank you Kaitlin for sharing your insight and wisdom!  I truly enjoyed this interview and look forward to following your success in the future!  If you want to get in touch with Kaitlin, her website is linked above in the intro.  This is her Facebook page and her Instagram.

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